Plymouth is a city in Devon, and the largest city on England's south coast, with a population of 250,000. It is about 190 miles (310 km) south-west of London, where the River Plym and the River Tamar (pronounced "TAY-mar") flow into the large bay of Plymouth Sound, creating a perfect natural harbour. The sea has been at the heart of Plymouth since it was founded in the middle-ages as a trading post and the source of its prosperity. Plymouth was the point from which the Pilgrim Fathers left England in 1620 for Massachusetts - commemorated today in the Mayflower Steps.
Plymouth is one of England's classic ocean cities, and for centuries has been a centre for shipping; first for trade and commercial shipping, and today as a base for the Royal Navy. Indeed, the city's Devonport Dockyard is the most extensive naval base in western Europe. The water, with its leisure activities, brings many tourists to Plymouth, as well as its various museums and other tourist attractions. In addition its location close to Dartmoor and other sights of south Devon to the east and Cornwall to the west make it an excellent base for a trip to the south-west of England.
The city was heavily bombed in World War II and much of the city-centre was destroyed. After the war, a comprehensive reconstruction plan at first produced the carefully-planned urban spaces and elegant buildings of the shopping streets in the city centre, constructed in the 1950s. However, due to budget restrictions many of the buildings erected in the 1960s and 70s were of poor architectural quality, and these are now being torn down and replaced across the city by modern ones (with exceptions of some quality, such as the listed tower of the Civic Centre on the Royal Parade). As a result, there are many modern buildings with others under construction.
Plymouth is a friendly city with an egalitarian feel and a sense of openness among its people, and there is less evidence of a sharp divide between rich and poor that is found in much of the southern half of England. Wonderful Devon and Cornwall scenery surrounds the city and famous city locations, such as the Hoe, the Barbican, and Plymouth Sound draw thousands every year yet Plymouth doesn't have the "tourist trap" feel that hangs over many other English cities. For those who love the sea, or the coast, or the brooding landscapes of Dartmoor, or just want a break in a welcoming and interesting city, Plymouth is an enticing and friendly destination.
A resident of Plymouth is called a Plymothian. You may also hear the more derogatory term "Janner" being used - but don't call anyone this if you are a visitor! There is a large military presence in the city, with the Royal Navy's main base at Devonport, a commando regiment of the British Army at the Royal Citadel, and a Royal Marines base at Stonehouse. In addition, you'll likely find a lot of tourists and students.
The city is located at the south-west corner of Devon, with Cornwall beginning immediately to the west of the city. It lies between two river mouths - the estuary of the River Tamar ("TAY-mar") to the west (the estuary is called the Hamoaze) and the estuary of the River Plym to the east (called the Cattewater). To the south is Plymouth Sound (everyone just calls it "the Sound"), a large bay bounded to the west by the Rame Peninsula which is now part of Cornwall, and to the east by the Mount Batten Peninsula. This produces one of the world's most impressive natural harbours, in which you'll see innumerable yachts, sailing ships, kayaks, other pleasure craft, and even small fishing vessels (of which there are a reasonable number in Plymouth). The Sound is protected from the sea by a huge breakwater at its southern end, easily seen from the shore. You'll often see naval vessels around it.
Immediately above the water is a grassy area called Plymouth Hoe (always just called "the Hoe"), whose names comes from a Saxon word for "grassy slope". You can spot the Hoe easily because of the lighthouse (Smeaton's Tower) that sits on it, and its wide grassy area. From here, planned as part of the grand reconstruction of the 1950s, runs north the "spine" of the city - from Smeaton's Tower on the Hoe, to the railway station north of the city-centre (which you can identify from its 1970s tower, InterCity House). This "spine" is Armada Way, a wide street, mostly pedestrianised, with council offices at its southern end, and shops and banks and cafés as you head north. Running east-west across Armada Way are other important city-centre streets with their elegant yet now-faded buildings; Royal Parade, New George Street, Cornwall Street, and Mayflower Street. These city-centre streets are bounded by busy main roads. To the east of the Hoe is the Barbican area (with its historic streets and large harbour/marina), and the University of Plymouth's large and impressive campus is just across the main road at the north-east of the city-centre. Other major streets can be found off these.
The Tourist Information Centre is in the Barbican area, at the quayside just opposite the Mayflower Steps, at 3-5 The Barbican (that's the street address). It is open 9AM-5PM on weekdays and 10AM-4PM on Saturdays, all year.
Plymouth City is within the historic county of Devon. The area was first recorded in the Domesday book as "Sudtone" (1086; later Sutton), which was located where the Barbican area of the city is today. Around this time also existed the trading port of Plymstock, further up the river (it still exists today as a suburb). However, the River Plym at Plymstock silted up in the 11th century and the area gradually came to be known as "Plymouth". The sea has always been at the heart of Plymouth's story and it has a long and historic seafaring tradition. Its growth from a small fishing village and then trading port has been based on its position on one of the world's largest natural harbours and the enterprise of its seafarers - fishermen, merchants, privateers and later the Royal Navy.
Plymouth was the home of Elizabethan privateer and hero/villain Sir Francis Drake (though he was born at Tavistock a few miles north), and from here he planned his raids and other maritime adventures. In 1588, the English Navy, which was led in part by Drake, set sail from Plymouth to defeat the Spanish Armada. It is said that Drake refused to leave port until he had finished his game of bowls on the Hoe. While this is probably more legend than history, there is still a bowls club on the Hoe today. In 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers sailed to the New World after setting into Plymouth for repairs, escaping from religious persecution to eventually set up Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts. Plymouth was a stronghold of Parliamentarian forces in the English Civil War, written across its history in areas such as Freedom Fields park. After the restoration, the new king, Charles II, ordered the construction of a massive fort (the Royal Citadel) to protect the town from invaders - such was its strategic importance. But the fort's guns also faced inland, it is said as a signal to the people of the city about where their loyalties should lie! The Royal Citadel is still home to a unit of the Army. The Royal Dockyard was built in the area, on the banks of the River Tamar, in 1690. Plymouth was amalgamated in 1914 with the towns of Devonport and Stonehouse to form the modern city which was granted city status in 1928. It includes the historic areas of Plymstock and Plympton.
The city was seriously damaged by bombing during the Second World War (1939–45) and the city-centre was extensively redeveloped afterwards. At Charles Cross, the ruined Charles Church was left as a memorial to the many dead. Behind it, the Drake Circus shopping centre was constructed to frame it in dramatic fashion, as an impressive entrance to the city from the south-east. The shopping streets of the city-centre were first to be reconstructed, according to the grand plan of Sir Patrick Abercrombie. This resulted in the elegant large buildings from the 1950s that can be seen on streets such as Armada Way, New George Street, and Cornwall Street. However, these are now in need of restoration. Much of the rest of the reconstruction involved cheap buildings in the Brutalist style fashionable in the 1960s and 1970s, most of which had no architectural merit. However, exceptions included the Civic Centre which is Grade II-listed. Many historic buildings remain, particularly in the Barbican area, isolated city-centre examples such as the City Museum, and also outside the city-centre which escaped the worst of the bombing (e.g. the Royal William Yard).
With its dramatic coastal setting, the surrounding landscape is quite striking. Plymouth is by turns rugged and hilly, or green and rolling. Famous Dartmoor was designated a National Park in 1951. Popular sites include Smeaton's Tower (a lighthouse rebuilt on the Hoe from its original location at Eddystone Rock when it was replaced with a new one), the Mount Batten Peninsula, the National Marine Aquarium, and Buckland Abbey, which was Drake's former home. Tourism is an important aspect of Plymouth's economy. Nearly 12 million people visit Plymouth every year. As well as all the attractions of a modern city, Plymouth is a popular launch pad to other notable areas including the beaches and footpaths of the Devon and Cornwall coastline and the brooding landscape of nearby Dartmoor.
The city of Plymouth covers multiple rock types, the Hoe, in the south of the city is composed of Devonian Limestone, which was also used for building a fairly high proportion of the city (most of the older houses and buildings are at least fronted with the stone). the area around the Station is formed of mudstone, which too is Devonian. The outer areas of the city are increasingly higher grades of metamorphosed mudstone, with the occasional pillow lava on hills. Dartmoor is a massive batholith (big lump) of granite, while Cawsand and Kingsand (reachable by ferry from the Barbican) contain various igneous structures.
Plymouth no longer has its own airport as it closed in 2011. However, you can use others in the region and make a connection by bus, train, or car - visit www.nationalrail.co.uk to plan journeys from these cities or Gatwick airport's own station to Plymouth.
- 1 Exeter Airport (EXT IATA) is a 45-minute drive to the north-east (or bus to Exeter and train from there).
- 2 Bristol Airport (BRS IATA) is also nearby and operates flights across the UK and Europe with various airlines including easyJet, Ryanair, Air France, and others. You can get a frequent bus to Bristol Temple Meads station, from where it's a two-hour train ride to Plymouth. There is also a direct bus from the airport to Plymouth city centre, operated by Stagecoach and taking about three hours.
- 3 London Gatwick Airport (LGW IATA) is a useful option if you are coming from abroad or further afield in the UK. Flights are offered from all over Europe, and other world destinations such as the Middle East and Canada (though not from the US). You can get a train from Gatwick's own station to Reading, and change there for trains to Plymouth; the total journey with change takes about 5 hours.
- 4 London Heathrow Airport (LHR IATA) is useful because flights arrive here from every nation in the world. Get the Heathrow Express or Heathrow Connect train to London Paddington station; from Paddington, direct trains take 3½–4 hours to Plymouth.
Plymouth's principal access route from the East and the West is the A38 dual carriageway which runs through the city (the Devon Expressway). It connects to the M5 at Exeter for onward journeys, and into the heart of Cornwall to the west. The A386 connects Plymouth to Tavistock, Okehampton, the A30, and North Devon.
Wikivoyage has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom.
5 Plymouth railway station is just to the north of the city-centre, a few minutes' walk away. If you are coming to or from the East, you will probably travel on the stretch of line between Newton Abbot and Exeter. This is one of the most scenic in the UK, as the train travels along the sea wall between Teignmouth (pronounced "Tin-muth"), Dawlish, and Starcross, and incredible sea cliffs and rolling hills line the entire route. Keep your eyes glued to that window!
- Inter-City services are provided by First Great Western (mostly using InterCity 125 trains) and CrossCountry (mostly using Voyager trains or sometimes InterCity 125). Direct trains arrive and depart for London (taking 3–4 hours), Bristol (2 hours), the Midlands (e.g. Birmingham 3hr 40min), stations in the North of England (several hours), and Scotland (e.g. Edinburgh in 9½ hours, Aberdeen in 12 hours!). You can also take inter-city services west to Cornwall to destinations like Penzance, Truro, etc. By direct train, or by making a change, you can get to almost anywhere in England, Scotland, or Wales.
- Sleeper services to London are provided by First Great Western. The 'Night Riviera' leaves London at around midnight every weeknight and Sunday, arrives in Plymouth at 5:22AM (05:36AM on Sundays) and departs at 6:30AM; the train continues to Penzance in Cornwall. Wake-up calls are available, or set the alarm on your phone!
- Local services are provided throughout the region by First Great Western (mostly using Sprinter trains), to stations in Cornwall, stations in Devon, and further afield.
To get from Plymouth Station into the city centre; from the main concourse, turn right as you head out the door. At the main road, turn left and walk down it (that's Saltash Road - you'll see cars speeding for the city centre). When you get to the interchange/roundabout, take the pedestrian subway to cross the roads and head into the city down the central avenue (that's Armada Way). You'll see city-centre buildings ahead of you. Armada Way leads directly through the retail area, and up to the landmark naval war memorial on the Hoe. There are also loads of taxis at the station, or you can get a bus from stops on Saltash Road (though it really isn't far).
The main Bretonside Bus Station is beneath Exeter Street in city centre. National Express) operates services around the UK which arrive and depart from here. In addition, local and regional services also arrive here from towns in the region. If you are coming in by car but don't want to face the parking problems of the city-centre, there are also three main Park-and-Ride sites serving the city .
- See also: Ferry routes to British Mainland
Brittany Ferries operate services to Plymouth from Santander (22 hours) and Roscoff (6 hours during the day, 8 hours during the night). The Ferry Terminal is to the west of the City Centre at the Millbay Docks, about 1/2 a mile (800 m) walk from the Hoe and Central shopping precinct. The cheap out-of-season 'booze cruises' are very popular and convenient.
Most of the places where hotels are located and tourists visit are located in the city-centre and it's easy to walk between them. In fact, walking is a great way to see the city and get a feeling for the Plymothian way of life. However, in winter or when going further (e.g. visiting historic Devonport), or when you just don't want to or cannot walk, there are other options.
You can get a map from the Tourist Information Centre at the Barbican. Alternatively, you can print one from an online mapping service such as Open Street Map, or use a smartphone's maps app, as the city will be covered in detail.
Bus is the main form of public transportation in Plymouth, with services running all over the city. Two private companies operate all buses on a profit-making basis: Plymouth CityBus (owned by the GoAhead Group) and First Devon and Cornwall (part of the giant Aberdeen-based transport company FirstGroup). Many of these services call at Royal Parade in the city centre. Fares for both depend on how far you're travelling. For a short journey (e.g. railway station to Royal Parade), a single adult fare might be £1.00 or £1.10; it will increase for longer distances and could be up to £2.50 if going a long way. You can pick up bus maps from the Tourist Information Office at the Barbican, or visit the bus companies' websites at www.plymouthbus.co.uk/ and www.firstgroup.com/ukbus/devon_cornwall/.
To order a taxi, a useful number is Taxifirst on ☏.
One of the most 'local' ways to get around is by water taxi or boat. The majority of these services leave from the Barbican Landing Stage (by the Mayflower Steps) and are operated by private companies. Although this has not always been the case, the majority of lines do now operate in the winter. It is nevertheless advisable to check timetables as some services may be reduced, typically in the evening.
Depending on the length of the journey and the operating company, prices can range from £1.50 to £4.00. Generally speaking, you do not pay when you get on. Once the boat has set off, or just before setting off, a member of crew will come around to take payments.
The two most popular services amongst locals are probably the Barbican-Mountbatten line and the Cremyll Ferry from Admiral's Hard to Mount Edgecumbe. These can be relatively busy during the evenings and at rush hour; the Cremyll Ferry in particular can be quite full of school children at around 4pm during term time. That said, they do knock a significant amount of time off your journey.
Other routes useful to tourists include the Barbican-Royal William Yard line, Barbican-Mount Edgecumbe and Barbican-Cawsand/Kingsand.
- 1 The National Marine Aquarium, Rope Walk, Coxside, PL4 0LF, ☏ . Britain's largest aquarium and the deepest in Europe. You'll find it located near the historical Barbican area, which includes Britain's oldest bakery (Jacka's), and the Mayflower Steps from where the Pilgrim Fathers left for the New World in 1621. It's great for families too. You can reach it from the Mayflower Steps/Barbican by crossing the bridge across the lock that gives access to the marina. The bridge swings to let boats past, which is fun to watch. Admission charge applies. The aquarium also has an excellent fish restaurant outside, where you can eat in or take away.
- 2 Plymouth Hoe (The Hoe). A large public park on the waterfront, iconic of Plymouth. According to legend, it was the scene of Sir Francis Drake's apocryphal game of bowls prior to his taking on the Spanish Armada in 1588. Today, you get a great view of the Sound from the Hoe, including Royal Navy ships which are usually present daily - stand on the Hoe and look out to sea, to see what you can see! Plymothians and visitors come here to take in the sea, soak up the sun in summer, play football, walk their dogs, just take a walk, and generally enjoy themselves. The lighthouse Seaton's Tower provides wonderful views of the city, the Sound, and the sea, while there are many other monuments dotted around the Hoe, including monuments to the dead of the Royal Navy in all conflicts to date, a statue of Sir Francis Drake, and various others. There used to be a 'Plymouth Eye' ferris wheel, but this has now been closed. The official residence of the Lord Mayor, 3 Elliot Terrace, also overlooks the Hoe. Armed Forces Day and other city celebrations generally have their centrepiece here on the Hoe.
- 3 Smeaton’s Tower. 10AM-5PM. High on the Hoe, this is a landmark of Plymouth and often depicted in scenes of the city. It is a lighthouse, painted white and red, constructed on Eddystone reef in 1759 at a cost of £40,000 by the engineer John Smeaton. It was an incredible engineering achievement of its time, and has been featured on numerous TV shows including the BBC's Coast. Built of interlocking granite blocks, one of its innovations was that it was shaped like an oak tree (i.e. wider at the base) which enabled it to withstand the sea, on a rock where two previous lighthouses had been washed away. Eventually, it was found the rock it was standing on was being undermined by the sea so it was replaced by a Victorian lighthouse in the 19th century, and Smeaton's Tower was moved to Plymouth Hoe as a monument. It has since become an icon of the city. Climb up for spectacular views and for exhibits on lighthouse life - beware you have to get up by steep ladders, but it's doable and worth it. It is operated by Plymouth City Council and the fee to climb up is (as of 2019) £4. £4.
- 4 The Mayflower Steps. A 20th-century commemorative feature built close to the site where the Pilgrim Fathers left aboard the repaired Mayflower, before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to live in North America. Today boat trips leave from there for tours of Plymouth Sound, although the original site is believed to be where the Admiral McBride public house now stands. (Although the Mayflower Steps still are where tourists stand and look). On shore, opposite the steps, is a building which houses an exhibition about the Pilgrim Fathers and the Mayflower, and the city's Tourist Information Centre. Admission free to Mayflower Steps; Mayflower Centre has the following charges: Adults £2.00, seniors £1.50, under 16's £1.00.
- 5 The Barbican. The oldest part of Plymouth. The main street is called New Street but used to be called Rag Street. This is the historic heart of Plymouth with lots of art galleries, restaurants, shops and holiday homes. There are also great pubs and bars and just to walk around it you can feel a great atmosphere, even more so if you are drinking outside on a summer evening. Some more of Sense and Sensibility was filmed here. If you are a fan of art, the Barbican has several specialty shops, craft work shops and art galleries. Many local artists have won global reputations, including Beryl Cook, Lee Woods, Brian Pollard and the late Robert Lenkiewicz.
- 6 The Post-War City Centre. Focused on Royal Parade and Armada Way, has been much maligned by locals and the media. It is, however, worth stopping to have a look around you when you're in town. As the most complete example of a post-war reconstruction in the UK, this is a historically and architecturally significant district. It was planned by none other than Patrick Abercrombie, who also redesigned Hong Kong, and some of the buildings boast Thomas Tait as their architect. With a modern, almost American look, it was, in the words of Professor Jeremy Gould, 'an egalitarian grid, spacious, airy, uncomplicated, accessible and gapingly open to all... the architecture of the future – clean, bright, democratic and, most of all, optimistic.' Some of the best examples of the 1950s style are found along the main axis of Royal Parade and Armada Way, including the Royal Bank of Scotland building, the Pearl Assurance House and the former Co-Op Building at Derry's Cross.
- 7 [formerly dead link] The Royal William Yard. Once the place from which the British Navy was provisioned. The naval presence in Plymouth is immense: the city is home to the largest naval base in western Europe, which is open to the public on Naval Days. It's located in Stonehouse, an area of Plymouth west of the Hoe. In Summer, you can get a boat there from the Barbican, or walk or get a bus. Now a bustling public space with up-market numerous cafés, bakeries and galleries, as well as private apartments. Also known as a filming location for ITV's 'Hornblower'. Located right next to the Devil's Point park, with views over to Cornwall. Admission free..
- 8 The Royal Citadel, The Hoe, ☏ . Built following the English Civil War to keep guard over Plymouth Sound and harbour, this was England's principal fortress featuring outstanding examples of 17th-century baroque architecture and outstanding views over Plymouth Sound. The citadel is up on the Hoe, with massive walls which you will no doubt see as you walk along the seafront road. The Citadel is still used as a military base, for the army's 29 Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery. Although it is a Ministry of Defence site, the fort is open for guided tours at 2:30PM on Tuesdays (and in summer, also on Thursdays at same time). Meet outside the entrance on Lambhay Hill, where the military sentry is. Adults £5.00, children £4.00, concessions £4.00.
- 9 Saltram House, Plympton, PL7 1UH, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. As seen in the beginning of Ang Lee's 1999 Sense and Sensibility. Considered to be home to some of Robert Adam's finest interiors, particularly in the neoclassical Saloon, Saltram is a fantastically preserved example of an early Georgian house. It is also particularly interesting as the various 'eras' of the house are still visible, including Tudor and Palladian. It was home to the Earls of Morley, the Parker family, who were patrons of Sir Joshua Reynolds and enjoyed close friendships with Jane Austen. The estate itself is vast, and the gardens, orangery and folly are all worth a visit. Note that the grounds get crowded at certain times of the year. Adults £10, children £5, families £15-25, adult groups £8.50; reduced rates for garden-only entry.
- 10 Plymouth Synagogue, Catherine Street, ☏ . Plymouth's synagogue is the oldest remaining Ashkenazi house of worship in an English-speaking country. Contains the only surviving 'full-blooded' Baroque Ark in the UK, impressive at two storeys high. The synagogue also has some beautiful stained-glass windows.
- 11 Plymouth Theatre Royal, Royal Parade, ☏ . The largest provincial producing theatre in the UK and one of the best attended. They have produced and co-produced West End plays in London and on Broadway, New York, as well as in Plymouth. It also plays host to the occasional Royal Shakespeare Company production and has seen Shakespeare productions from acclaimed Japanese director Yukio Ninagawa.
- 12 Crownhill Fort. One of the largest and best-preserved of Lord Palmerston's so-called 'Ring of Fire', Crownhill Fort is notable for its cannon and gun collection, including one of only two working Moncieff 'Disappearing Guns'. It also hosts Victorian and World War II barracks and a warren of underground tunnels. It is open to the public on the last Friday of each month, in addition to selected weekends where it hosts 'Living History' weekends. For groups wishing to visit on other dates, it is possible to book a tour in advance.
- 13 The Minster Church of St Andrew. The centre of Anglicanism in a city which only possesses a Roman Catholic cathedral, this fourteenth-century church is an icon of the Plymouth Blitz. Amid the smoke and ruins of the destroyed city centre, a headmistress nailed a simple wooden sign over the door of the bombed shell of the church; 'Resurgam' - 'I will rise again'. This famous gesture is often taken as a symbol of Plymouth's wartime spirit. This is not the Minster's only claim to fame; it has welcomed Catherine of Aragon, Sir Francis Drake, John Hawkins and Captain Bligh of The Bounty.
- 14 Prysten House, Finewell Street. The oldest surviving house in Plymouth's centre, built in 1490 by a local merchant. Partially taken up by Tanners restaurant.
- 15 Christ The King Roman Catholic Church, Armada Way, PL1 2EN. A postwar sandstone brick church, opened in 1962. Significant as the last work of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, also responsible for Waterloo Bridge, Battersea Power Station, Liverpool Cathedral and even the red telephone box. He continued to work on the plans for the church even when hospitalised for lung cancer, and did so until his death. Today the church is well attended by young students and is worth taking note of on your way down to the Hoe.
- 16 Plympton Castle, Plympton (Bus 21/21a from the City Cente). Small ruins of the shell of a thousand-year-old motte and bailey castle. Good views over the conservation area of Plympton St Maurice, an ancient stannary [tin-mining] town worth seeing for its well-preserved medieval streets and architecture in the historic vernacular, including an old school, church and small guildhall. Many houses also boast fine Georgian facades. The castle has no 'gatekeeper'; i.e. it is open all year round, at all times of the day - just walk in and explore! The motte is a very steep climb. Free.
- 17 Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery. Tu-F 10AM-5:30PM; Saturday and Bank Holiday Mondays 10AM-5PM. This interesting museum is housed in a grand building next to the university and across the road from Drake Circus, on North Hill. Collections are diverse and include natural history, pottery and china, and the history of Plymouth. There are also rotating special exhibitions. Refurbishment in the works to become an enlarged 'History Centre', with government funding. Free.
- 18 Elizabethan House. On the Barbican for more information.
- 19 Merchant's House. A historic building tucked away down one of the city's oldest streets - the Merchant's House is Plymouth’s finest surviving example of a 16th/17th-century residence. During the 17th century it was home to three Plymouth mayors including privateer William Parker, a friend of Sir Francis Drake.
- 20 Buckland Abbey, Yelverton (11 mi (18 km) from Plymouth, off A386, ¼ mile south of Yelverton), ☏ . Built by Cistercian monks in 1278 and later owned by Sir Francis Drake. This National Trust property features furnished rooms and interactive galleries, anr one of the nation's most famous heirlooms, Drake's Drum. A ‘lost’ Rembrandt had been identifed by a Dutch paintings expert. This self-portrait had been thought to have been painted by Rembrandt's pupils but has now been verified as the work of the Dutch master himself.
- 1 Plymouth Gin Distillery, 60 Southside St, The Barbican, PL1 2LQ, ☏ . M-Sa 10AM-5PM; Su 11AM-5PM. This is where Plymouth Gin is produced. Today it is the only remaining gin distillery in Plymouth, in what was once a Dominican Order monastery built in 1431. The current distillery has been in operation since 1793 (the brand/distillery is owned by multinational drinks giant Pernod Ricard). The distillery is open to visitors every day for tours, and is thought to be the last place where the Pilgrim Fathers stayed before leaving for America. It is known for having good displays - it can also be enjoyed by people who don't drink alcohol; though you of course get to taste the gin produced there too! Surprisingly popular with families. Tours £7/pp.
- 2 Tinside Lido. An outdoor swimming pool on the shorefront, just below the Hoe. It was constructed in the 1930s to an elegant Art Deco design and has also been featured on the BBC's Coast series. The lido is open during the summer (June, July and August, perhaps the first week or two of September) and is a fun place to swim, play in the water, or sunbathe. There are fun sessions with inflatables and a fountain - amazing on a sunny day. For a long time it was derelict and abandoned, but after demand from citizens it was renovated and reopened. You also get a fantastic view of the sound. It was featured on a Royal Mail stamp collection in 2014. Admission charge applies.
- Take a seafront walk. You can get fantastic views of the marina, the Sound, and out to sea if you walk along the seafront from the Barbican. The walk will take you along Madeira Road (constructed in the 1930s to provide work for the unemployed during the Great Depression), round the bottom of the Royal Citadel's walls. The road leads past the Hoe, and you can follow it along to the Millbay Docks. Fantastic views are available the whole way - including of Royal Navy ships in the Sound, the type of which you can often identify by the silhouette. You'll likely also see yachts, sailing ships, fishing boats, and other watercraft in the Sound. You might notice the breakwater at the southern edge of the sound, with its Napoleonic fort.
- 3 Plym Valley Cycle Path, Plympton. Accessible from Plympton in the North East of the city, this path follows the Plym valley firstly alongside an old railway line and then on it through beautiful countryside all the way to Tavistock; there is very little infrastructure or facilities along the path, so any food or drink should be picked up before leaving Plymouth. There is a large Sainsbury's located at Marsh Mills, just before you reach the beginning of the cycle path. There is a viewpoint on the first large viaduct out of Plymouth overlooking a disused quarry where peregrine falcons nest in the spring. Kingfishers, dippers, mandarin duck and many other species are found along the river Plym which flows through the woods here. Also of interest are the Cann Wood railway cottages, an abandoned Victorian railway village whose ruined houses are free to explore. The path can be followed all the way up to Dartmoor; it is possible to follow a route right up to Princetown. Can get quite crowded on the initial stretch with families on bicycles at weekends. Free.
- 4 Plym Valley Railway, Nr. Marsh Mills, Plympton, PL7 4NW. 1½ miles of the old Plymouth-Tavistock Great Western line, restored by local enthusiasts. Runs a number of old steam engines and other stock, which take visitors up this historic stretch of railway into Plym Woods. Adult single £2, adult return £4, child single £1, child return £2. 'Rover' tickets also available. Always check prices for individual trains before travelling..
- Plymouth Pavilions is an entertainment centre that hosts big bands from time to time, ten-pin bowling, laser games, ice skating and the Pavilions funpool containing flume rides, Jacuzzi, wave machine and even an indoor beach. The centre is in the west end of the city centre on Union Street. It is supposed to be demolished, though there is no sign of this happening yet.
- Take a boat tour Plymouth boasts one of the best natural harbours in Europe and maybe even the world, taking to the water can give you a new view on the city. Most boats leave from the Barbican, often from a jetty next to the Mayflower Steps. Various boat trips are available, lasting between 1–3 hours, taking in the Navy dockyard, Brunel's Bridge and the Hoe foreshore but various different destinations are available. There are also shorter ferry services designed to get you from place to place across the water. You can get more details at the Tourist Information Office which is just opposite the entrance down to the jetty. Plymouth Boat Trips is one company operating trips.
- Watch football at Plymouth Argyle FC. They were promoted in 2020 and now play in League One, the third tier of English soccer. Their stadium is at Central Park (capacity 18,000), half a mile north of city centre.
- Watch rugby union, i.e. 15-a-side, at Plymouth Albion RUFC.
- The British Firework Championships are an extremely impressive two-day championship between the best professional firework display companies to be crowned 'Champion of Champions'. Recognised as the UK's premier annual show, this takes place in the 'natural amphitheatre' of Plymouth Sound, meaning the fireworks can be viewed from the city itself, from the surrounding hills or even from boats in the Sound itself. This yearly event attracts thousands of visitors and the Sound becomes packed with both private and commercial craft, so it is worth arriving in advance. It is recommended to take public transport if coming from the suburbs, as the traffic can be extremely heavy.
- 5 Jennicliff. A designated 'county wildlife site' and offers breathtaking views over Plymouth Sound and towards the city centre. Just a short water bus ride of around five minutes from the Barbican Landing Stage, followed by five to ten minutes on the SW Coastal Path, this is the perfect place for picnics, letting the kids run around and let off steam or just watching the world (and shipping!) go by. A small pebbly beach is located at the foot of Jennycliff, accessed down long but shallow (not steep) steps. There is also direct access onto the Southwest Coastal Path for longer walks to Heybrook, Wembury, Noss Mayo and beyond. A small café with facilities is available.
- Plymouth Gladiators (Plymouth Devils), Coypool Road (Plymouth Coliseum). A British speedway team that was in the National League in 2019.
Plymouth has two universities. The main university, and the one most visitors notice, is the immense University of Plymouth, with around 30,000 students. It is based on a large campus at the north-east corner of the city-centre, and puts on regular events for citizens and visitors. Even if you don't realize it, you are surrounded by its many students, particularly if you are in the city-centre, and in summer they open the halls of residence to visitors, providing good, affordable self-catering accommodation. You can walk around the impressive campus, and the Roland Levinskiy building is open to visitors to see its exhibitions, for events, and to visit the café. It stands out because of its scale, a tower of unusual shape in brown metal and glass. It became a university in 1992 having been a polytechnic for many years, but is one of the best-regarded of the former polytechnics which became universities that year. Plymouth's second university is University of St Mark & St John, usually abbreviated to "Marjon", with about 5,000 students. It is located in a northern suburb of the city, close to Dartmoor. It attained full university status in 2012 after being a university college for many years and offers an increasing number of degree programmes.
Plymouth is also home to nearly a third of all state schools in Devon, some of which are counted among the best in the country. Plymouth still has three selective grammar schools and a small independent school.
There are also a lot of private language schools, in particular in the city centre and around the railway station. Numbers swell in the summer as foreign school groups descend upon Plymouth to improve their English.
This is a city from where great voyages have begun for centuries - and as no voyage can depart without supplies, there has always been a need to stock everything imaginable! Today you'll find fashion, clothing, local food and many other items.
Plymouth's city-centre shopping area is the largest and most comprehensive in the West of England outside of Bristol. Most stores as open M-Sa 9AM-5PM, Th until 8PM as late-night-shopping night, and Su 11AM-5PM. The main shopping areas are the streets of Armada Way and those running off it - the Royal Parade, New George Street, Cornwall Street, and Mayflower Street. These are housed in elegant 1950s buildings erected as part of the post-war reconstruction of the city, and mostly pedestrianised. Armada Way in particular is a broad avenue with trees, water features, and other interesting features running down the centre of the street. At the intersection of Armada Way and New George Street is the Armada Dial, a giant and striking sculpture of a sundial. However, these streets have been hit in the past few years by the closure of various major stores, including Woolworth's and the Derry's department store. It would be fair to say that these streets require some regeneration. But they are still busy during the day and especially on Saturdays, and you can find most chain stores here, as well as all the banks and some building societies that operate in England. There are two key department stores here, House of Fraser and Debenham's, with entrances on Royal Parade.
- 1 Drake Circus Shopping Centre, 1 Charles St, PL1 1EA, ☏ . M-W and F Sa 9AM-6PM, Th 9AM-8PM, Su 10:30AM-4:30PM. However, many of the more upmarket stores have now moved to Drake Circus, an impressive shopping mall which opened in October 2006. There are entrances on New George Street, Cornwall Street, and Exeter Street. This is very much a 21st-century shopping facility equal to those of any other prosperous British city: Marks and Spencer, a large branch of the chemist/drugstore Boots, a Waterstone’s bookstore (with an interesting local interest section with books about Plymouth and Devon!), fashion chains Zara, Bank, Topshop/Topman, Next and River Island and numerous others, shoe shop Sole Trader, the Apple Store. There is a vast Primark and the Juice Moose. Drake Circus courted controversy on its opening, with some comparing it to malls designed in the 1980s (perhaps because car parking is on the roof), but in truth it is clean, welcoming, attractive and has a high standard of fit and finish which is comparable or better than most others in the UK.
There is no branch of John Lewis Waitrose or Ikea in the city (you have to go to Bristol for that). However, there is a Waitrose just over the Tamar Bridge, in Cornwall. There is another, older mall in the city, the Armada Centre which is on the corner of Armada Way and Mayflower Street. However, it is in decline and only features discount stores and pound-shops, though you might want to make a trip there for the big Sainsbury's supermarket.
Independent shops and markets
A visit to the independent shops in the Barbican area are a must - particularly on New Street and Southside Street. Here you'll find art and prints, antiques and collectables, and all sorts of other interesting shops - see what you can find! There are also all sorts of items on the Pannier Market which is held most days around Southside Street (this is not the same as the covered Pannier Market in the city-centre on Cornwall Street, which is usually known as the City Market). The Barbican area is also a good place for souvenirs of the city, which are also stocked at the Tourist Information Centre and the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, both near the Mayflower Steps.
Many tourists like to buy sea-themed souvenirs from their trip to Plymouth. There is a good selection at the Edinburgh Woollen Mill which is in a glass-faced shop in the Barbican, near the Mayflower Steps. Plymouth is the home of Plymouth Gin, and if you like English gin you may want to pick some up from the city it was distilled in even though the business is now owned by Pernod Ricard.
The 'Independent Quarter', to the West of the city-centre, contains smaller shops including a French-family owned bakery, a specialist pipe and tobacco shop, and many charity shops where second-hand goods donated by the public are sold to raise money for good causes.
Finally, you should pay a visit to the City Markets (previously known as the Pannier Market - but this is also the name of another at the Barbican which was confusing). The City Market is a covered indoor market of permanent stallholders similar to the St. Nicholas Markets in Bristol or the Grainger Market in Newcastle - but in an elegant modernist building constructed in the 1950s. The impressive scalloped roof fills the market with natural light. Here you'll find all manner of items for sale, including food (including produce fresh from farms in the region and freshly-caught local fish), clothing, collectables, decorative items, items for the household of all kinds, and many other things - and of generally high quality. There is no hawking or "hard sell" atmosphere as is found at some other places, nor the (albeit exciting) craziness and threat of the Camden Markets in London. Instead, there is a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, as a microcosm of that in the city as a whole. Some of the shops round the outside and on the mezzanine are somewhat retro. There are also some old-style British cafés on a mezzanine floor, of the sort which have mostly disappeared from British high streets to be replaced by coffee shops. The atmosphere in the market captures the classless and community-spirited air of life in the city. The market has entrances on Cornwall Street and New George Street (at the western end of these streets) and is open 9AM-5PM most days.
If you are staying in self-catering accommodation, or just need to buy food other essential items, try the following:
- Tesco Metro has a store on New George Street (at the eastern end of the street), open 7AM to 10PM every night (except Sundays when it is 11AM to 5PM). This is a small supermarket which stocks most everyday food and other items.
- Sainsbury's has a store at the Armada Centre (entrance at the corner of Armada Way and Mayflower Street). This might be useful if you need a larger selection of items than at the Tesco Metro as it is somewhat larger. It's open 7AM to 8PM every night (except Sundays when it is 10:30AM to 4:30PM).
- The Cooperative Food has many small stores located throughout the city. These act as handy convenience-store outlets and are usually open until late. For example, stores are located at Southside Street and Hoegate Street in the Barbican, with another at Regent Street which is handy if you are staying at or near the University or its halls of residence. You'll also find them throughout the suburbs and other areas of the city.
Outside of the city centre, there is another larger Sainsbury's at Marsh Mills, an Asda in Estover (open 24 hours except Sunday) and two large branches of Tesco (one in Crownhill and one in Woolwell, the latter of which is an Extra and open 24 hours except Sunday).
For a city of its size, Plymouth does not have many fine restaurants, though it is home to the Tanners Restaurant run by brothers James and Chris Tanner. James is a well-known chef on British television. There are many good restaurants in the wider area. Among them: The Horn of Plenty at Gulworthy (20 miles), near Tavistock; the New Carved Angel at Dartmouth (35 miles) which was once voted the top restaurant in Britain; and the Gidleigh Park Hotel at Chagford.
The Barbican has a number of restaurants and bars lined up along the quayside - notably few serve fresh locally caught fish ; a local peculiarity for a fishing city - North Sea cod is generally only served battered and fried, with chips. As with any major city, there are plenty of takeaway and fast food retailers within easy distance of most parts of Plymouth. Buying a takeaway in Plymouth can prove a cost effective alternative to a restaurant, with as many different food choices. Naturally, any visitor to the West Country should try a traditional pasty (if in Plymouth, asking for a 'Cornish' pasty may attract some derision - just say "pasty"; they will understand!) a meat and potato mix wrapped in pastry. Try Ivor Dewdney's pasties to eat like the locals have done for over seventy years, or try the wonderfully entitled Oggy Oggy Pasty Company which has many branches, or the excellent Barbican Pasty Company on Southside Street in the Barbican area. The traditional filling is a mixture of shredded beef, swede, onion and potato, but various different flavours are available now - vegetarian fillings are often available. Traditionally, you eat by holding the thick pastry crust and eating from the soft pastry side - that kept your dirty fingers off the main part of the food if you were a miner (metal mining was big business in Devon and Cornwall in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially for tin, lead and copper) or fisherman. The thick crust meant that if you would be eating your lunch with poisonous tin or lead on your hands, you wouldn't be poisoned! Of course nowadays you can eat the whole thing, crust included!
- Tanners Restaurant, Prysten House, Finewell Street, ☏ . Probably the most expensive restaurant in Plymouth. The Tanner Brothers also own a secondary (more reasonable) restaurant, The Barbican Kitchen is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner, it is in the historic Gin distillery on the Barbican (as the name suggests!)
- One of the nicest restaurants in Plymouth is the View Pan Asia, located along Royal Parade in the city centre. It is a buffet restaurant for East Asian cuisine.
- Veggie Perrin's, 97 Mayflower Street (Just opposite the lower end of Armada Centre), ☏ . 6-10PM. A very pleasant, family-run Indian restaurant, which makes fresh vegetarian food while you wait. The samosas and dhal are exceptionally tasty. Highly recommended. £20.
- Lantern Restaurant on Cornwall Street (city centre) Cypriot and Greek Fare
- Cafe India in Stoke Village is a highly regarded Indian restaurant in Plymouth.
- Platters on the Barbican Very reliable seafood dishes, try the scallops as a starter, and if you have room, the large fish and chips.
- Cap'n Jasper's. 'World Famous for Fine Food', a great-value eating place on the Barbican.
- The Waterdragon in Plymouth City Centre is an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet restaurant, priced around £12, with a chocolate fountain as part of its dessert options.
- The Pasta Bar on the Barbican, is mainly Italian food - pizza and pasta. It is moderately priced with pasta dishes around £8-10.
- Union Rooms is a Wetherspoon's pub in the City Centre that has budget food such as beer and burger meals at £4.
- Restauracja Rycerska (Polish Restaurant), 111 Mayflower Street, ☏ . 10AM - 6PM. A cafe restaurant serving delicious Polish traditional food and English Breakfasts. £20 for 3 courses.
- Plymouth has all the usual fast food fare you could want (or not want); overall don't expect many great surprises.
If you're looking for a place to go out for a drink, there are two main places: the West End (especially Union Street and around Derry's Cross), and the Barbican. Of these, the Barbican has a somewhat nicer atmosphere, particularly on summer evenings when many people are drinking outside. However you can also find good pubs and bars in other parts of the city - including in the Mutley area, which attracts many students.
- The Dolphin public house on the Plymouth Barbican, perfectly kept Bass drawn straight from the barrel and the last traditional drinkers' pub. The Dolphin features in many paintings by Plymouth's great artist, Beryl Cook, and has a long running folk music session Sunday lunchtimes.
- The Millbridge Inn in Millbridge, Plymouth, a Ferkin pub this usually has live music on a Friday and Saturday night.
- The China House at Coxside, this has great views over the harbour to the Barbican.
- The Lord Louis in Plympton is a suburban steak house.
- Voodoo Lounge in City Centre is an alternative pub that hosts rock/indie/punk/alternative bands, open mic nights and quiz nights.
- The Fortescue in Mutley Plain, known locally as "The Fort", is an excellent place to try real British beer, being a regular winner of the Plymouth branch of CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) awards for the best Real Ale pub in the city. The Fort is both a traditional pub and a hub of the community, with a wide range of activities including music, darts, and its own cricket team and knitting group.
- Pubs, clubs and bars due to the massive student population Plymouth has pretty much every national chain and plenty of local talent, good drinking areas include the Barbican, the area around the University, Mutley and Union Street especially on Friday or Saturday nights.
There are many hotels, bed and breakfasts, guest houses, and other places to stay in Plymouth. If you find yourself in the city and needing a place to stay, try walking around to the west of the Hoe, around Citadel Road East/West and Leighton Street. You can also visit the Tourist Information Centre at the Barbican, which has a more comprehensive list of places to stay.
As with any decent sized city there are plenty of accommodation options, the Plymouth Tourist Information Centre (☏ ) will be able to provide more assistance
There is suddenly a surplus of medium to low-price hotel or Travelodge style accommodation in the centre of the city where deals are always to be had and which provide better value and convenience than traditional bed and breakfast hotels although dozens of these are working hard to up their game.
- Plymouth University Summer Accommodation, ☏ . July and August only. For comfortable, city centre accommodation during the high season. A choice of single standard or single and double en suite rooms are available from as little as £20 per night, with a choice of self catering or room only. The accommodation is within walking distance of the main shopping area, the waterfront and the train and bus stations.
- Ibis (in Marsh Mills (to the north west of the city - directly off the Devon Expressway)).
- 1 Copthorne Hotel, Armada Way PL1 1AR, ☏ . Part of a chain which has a hotel in the centre of Plymouth
- Holiday Inn. Known for having the best view of the Sound in Plymouth from its bar.
- There are a camp-sites also in Marsh Mills (Riverside Camp-site)  it is well signposted from both the city centre and the road to and from Exeter, Plymouth Sound Caravan Club , Brixton Caravan & Camping Park  [formerly dead link] and many more  [dead link] in the surrounding area.
- Plymouth Backpackers Hotel, 172 Citadel Rd, The Hoe, PL1 3BD.
- Avalon Guest House, 167 Citadel Road The Hoe Plymouth PL1 2HU, ☏ . Check-in: 1PM, check-out: 10AM. Friendly relaxed and comfortable family run guest house bed and breakfast situated on Plymouth Hoe in the heart of Plymouth.
- [dead link] Seymour Guest House, 211 Citadel Road East (The Hoe Plymouth), ☏ . Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. Bed & breakfast 4-star guest house in a pretty Victorian terrace. In a central position on Plymouth Hoe. From £25pppn.
The main Post Office is at the corner of Exeter Street and Old Town Street, in the colonnaded corner building at St. Andrew's Cross (i.e. roundabout). You'll find all the major English banks and building societies on the shopping streets in the city centre, nearly all of which have ATMs. The city's main hospital (Derriford Hospital) is located in a northern suburb of the city. Emergency care is free to all, and holders of a European Health Insurance Card are entitled to free treatment on the NHS in all departments.
It is unlikely you'll experience any problems in Plymouth as long as you use common sense. Although certainly not the most dangerous of British cities, Plymouth has several areas which are best avoided at night, especially if you are alone. These include the area around Union Street late at night, where drinkers can get rowdy and the atmosphere can be unpleasant. It is not unusual to see drunken brawls in the Union Street area after dark. For this reason there is generally a police presence there at night.
The city has always struggled with a degree of social deprivation, with salaries still well below the national average and surrounding 'destination' towns and resorts in Devon & Cornwall themselves often patronised by incomers from wealthier regions. Beggars sometimes hang around the city centre - if asked, do not give them any money as this exacerbates the problem and your money is likely to be spent on alcohol or drugs. Avoid making eye contact with them, and if you are asked to "spare a little change please", just keep walking by while you offer a firm but polite "not today" or "no, sorry". The main police station is at Charles Cross.
- Take a boat from the Barbican in Plymouth to Cawsand, a small and very picturesque village just across the Sound in Cornwall (30 minutes). Cawsand has a small stony beach and nice pubs and cafes. From there you can walk through along the stunning South West Coastal Path via the sandy beach at Whitesand Bay, past the ancient windswept chapel at Rame Head and Napoleonic fortifications and through the beautiful 18th-century landscape of Mount Edgcumbe country park (3–4 miles) to Cremyll. You can take the Cremyll ferry back to Plymouth (get a timetable from the Tourist Information Office, but they're fairly frequent for the 10-minute trip). A fantastic day out. If you want a map, the Tourist Information Office have some or try Ordnance Survey Explorer 108 (Lower Tamar Valley and Plymouth)
- Take a bus to Wembury and walk back into Plymouth along the South West Coastal Path an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Scenically tucked away nearby are Noss Mayo and Newton Ferrers (30-min drive from Plymouth), a plutocratic ex-fishing village with a couple of well-sited up-market foody pubs by a crook in the river.
- Canoe tours Tamar Trails are a beautiful way to explore the magical winding Tamar Valley and depart from nearby Callington where you can also visit National Trust Property Cotehele, the ancient seat of the Edgcumb family.
- Antony House and Pentillie are nearby country estates in Cornwall open to visitors ; National Trust Saltram House is in Plympton, Devon with extensive landscaped gardens overlooking the Plym at Laira.
- Walk further along the South West Coastal Path. As a map try the A-Z Adventure South West Coast Path series (you can get these from city bookstores or the Tourist Information Centre at the Barbican), or an Ordnance Survey Explorer map for the area you plan to walk (e.g. Ordnance Survey Explorer 108 - Lower Tamar Valley and Plymouth).
- Try the beautiful coastal walk from Polperro to Looe (or vice versa).
- Tavistock is an attractive, historic tin-miners' town and is a good place to set as a hub for visiting Dartmoor. It can be reached by taking bus, number 83, 84 or 86. It also has an amazingly good cheese shop, .
- The cathedral cities of Truro, in Cornwall (1 hr 30 min drive, from 1-hr train - from £8 adult return), and Exeter (40-min drive, or 1-hr train - £7 adult return, or 'fast' bus from Plymouth taking around 1 hr 20 min) are worth a visit.
- About a 20-minute drive north will take you into Dartmoor National Park, where some fantastic views and walks are to be had. A good first stop would be in Princetown where the tourist information office will give you details on some recommended walks close by.
- Dartmouth a scenic town with the Royal Naval College and restaurants including the Carved Angel.
- Totnes, Salcombe and Kingsbridge are notably upmarket, bohemian communities of the South Hams to the east of the city with good restaurants and a foody, crafty, culture centred around Dartington Hall. Local wine and cheese production amid the fertile green coombes can be found at the well-known Sharpham Estate near Loddiswell.
- The Plymouth suburban rail services, such as they are, predominantly continue out of town up the Tamar Valley to the former mining districts around Calstock and Gunnislake. The journey is remarkably sedate (and therefore infrequent, since one train operates a shuttle all day), the scenery magnificent, the fares reasonable and the destination interesting. Gunnislake has good walking country, albeit with a lot of minor roads rather than minor paths, and the pubs are mostly worth a visit. There is a RailAle Trail for those planning this last option, which offers discounts on the drinks and urges responsible consumption. Owing to the rural nature of most of the line and the poor service offered to the urban stations, traffic levels are low and getting a seat will rarely be an issue for most of the day. It is a little-known route, so good for those wishing to avoid tourist hotspots.
|Routes through Plymouth|
|Bodmin ← Saltash ←||W E||→ Buckfastleigh → Exeter|
|Okehampton ← Tavistock ←||N S||→ merges with|